Sleeping Well

TL;DR

We spend 1/3 of our lives sleeping, so sleep is essential for balancing the rest of our lives.

Not getting enough sleep is very, very unhealthy.

Sleep typically transitions through four stages that cycle for approximately 2 hours.

Everyone has a general sleep pattern unique to them, which requires disciplining habits to change.

There are many perfectly healthy sleep cycles to adapt to that mix up the sleep times.

Naps have various effects on our bodies, depending on how long they last.

There are many routines that can improve sleep cycles and cure insomnia.

Traveling disrupts sleep, though some tricks can offset it.

Who cares about sleep?

We spend close to 1/3 of our lives sleeping.

If someone isn’t getting enough sleep, improving sleep is the most dramatic lifestyle improvement.

Staying well-rested has many, many benefits:


Sleep loss is very unhealthy

Short-term physiological risks within one or two days of lost sleep:
  • Slowed metabolism and increased appetite
  • Increased inflammation
  • Slowed healing and a weakened immune system
  • Vaccines are less effective
  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Physically weaker
  • Chronic pain intensified
  • Diminished reaction time
  • Exponentially higher risk of auto accidents
  • Disrupted circadian rhythm (your natural clock)
  • Tremors and shakes
  • Aches
  • Reduced accuracy at all tasks
  • Lower body temperature
  • Slurred speech

Chronic sleep loss can create long-term physiological risks that persist for weeks afterward:
  • Increases the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Weight gain
  • Permanent skin damage
  • Diminished life expectancy
  • Damaged bone tissue
  • Stunted growth
  • Damaged brain tissue
  • General increased chance of dying

Sleeplessness also has psychological risks:
  • Higher chance of depression
  • Unstable mood swings and distress
  • Increased anxiety and irritability
  • Difficulty reading others’ emotions
  • Cluttered thoughts
  • Delusions and hallucinations
  • Impeded learning
  • Less ability to manage stress
  • Impaired judgment
  • Inhibited creativity
  • Problems with retaining, storing or retrieving information
  • Increased perception of pain
  • Behavior and thinking that closely resemble getting a concussion
  • Increased chance of substance abuse, specifically alcohol and caffeine

Typically, if you can’t figure out your problem, you likely need more sleep.

Contrary to what you may have heard, your mattress doesn’t matter too much:
  • Your mental state and surrounding environment determine more about your sleep than the surface you’re sleeping on.
  • You can sleep fine as long as you’re on something relatively soft and have something like a pillow to cradle your head.


Sleep has four stages

Stage 1 — Non-REM:
  • Slower brain waves and eyes start slowly rolling.
  • Stage 1 is easy to disrupt someone from.
  • You may occasionally jerk your muscles involuntarily or feel like falling when transitioning in and out of this stage.

Stage 2 — Non-REM:
  • The first actual stage of “sleep”.
  • Specific brain wave spikes (sleep spindles) and brain wave structures (K complexes).
  • Slower heart rate and lower body temperature.

Stage 3 — Non-REM:
  • Also known as “deep sleep”, the most restorative sleep cycle.
  • Waking someone from this stage is near-impossible, and people usually don’t wake on their own from it.
  • Most sleep disorders like night terrors, sleepwalking, and sleep talking come at this stage.

REM sleep (rapid eye movement):
  • The eyes move quickly back and forth.
  • Typically, the stage where we experience dreams.
  • People waking during REM cycles will feel groggy and overly sleepy.

Good sleep persists through a pattern:

  1. Transition through Stages 1 and 2.
  2. Move to REM after about 90 minutes.
  3. Cycle back to Stage 3 after 10 minutes.
  4. Shift back-and-forth between Stage 3 and REM, with longer REM cycles each time until finished.

Though we can’t directly control sleep cycles, we can typically alter them if we tell ourselves to wake up at a set time.


Circadian Rhythm

Each person has one of three natural patterns (chronotypes):

  1. Morning people (early chronotype) — 10% of the population, where productivity peaks at 9 a.m.
  2. Night owls (late chronotype) — 20% of the population, where productivity peaks at 9 p.m.
  3. Mid-day (intermediate chronotype) — 70% of the population, with varying productivity across the day.
Wake up at the same time every morning:
  • If you wake up before your alarm goes off, your body’s natural clock has woken you, so do not go back to bed.
  • It takes a week to shift a sleeping pattern, but one missed day will revert it, so avoid binge-sleeping on weekends.

Learn how much sleep you require.

  • Falling asleep within five minutes of lying down is a sign of sleep deprivation.
  • Track when you naturally sleep with a sleep monitor app.

To completely reset your sleep cycle:

  1. Stop eating for 12–16 hours.
  2. Eat when you want to wake up.
  3. Carry on through the day and fall asleep at your preferred time.

Usually, if you can’t sleep, you probably weren’t working hard enough, learning enough, or having enough meaningful interactions throughout your day.

Sleep Schedules

You have many sensible sleep cycles to choose from.

  • The body doesn’t need hours of sleep, just sleep cycles.
  • Each sleep cycle without training lasts about 1.5–2 hours, and doesn’t need to be in order.
  • Depending on your lifestyle, changing your cycles can enhance your creativity or productivity.
Monophasic
  • The most common modern sleep pattern.
  • Runs without interruption for 7–9 hours a night.
  • Total daily sleep time: 7–9 hours.
monophasic sleep chart

Segmented sleep (Biphasic)
  • The most common pattern across the lens of history.
  • Scientifically proven as the most natural cycle.
  • Runs 3–4 hours at a time for a total of 6–8 hours a night.
  • Total daily sleep time: 6–8 hours.
biphasic sleep chart

Siesta sleep (Biphasic)
  • Popular in many European countries.
  • 5–6 hours a night, accompanied by 20–90 minutes during the day.
  • Total daily sleep time: 5.5–7.5 hours.
siesta sleep chart

Triphasic
  • One of the most natural patterns when transitioning from monophasic.
  • An eight-hour cycle: fall asleep for 1.5 hours, then stay awake for 6.5 hours.
  • Total daily sleep time: 4.5 hours.
triphasic sleep chart

Everyman
  • The second most intense sleep pattern to adopt.
  • Sleep for 4.5–6 hours, accompanied by two 20-minute daytime naps.
  • Alternately, sleep 3–4 hours with three 20-minute naps.
  • Total daily sleep time: 4-6.5 hours.
everyman sleep chart

Dual-Core
  • Sleep around dusk, then around dawn, then take several naps in the afternoon.
  • Total daily sleep time: 4–6.5 hours.
dual-core sleep chart 1 dual-core sleep chart 2

Uberman
  • The most frequently attempted (and failed) sleep pattern.
  • Adapting to the Uberman pattern requires a very long transition period.
  • Take six to eight 20–minute naps every day.
  • Total daily sleep time: 2–3 hours.
uberman sleep chart

Dymaxion
  • Hardly anyone ever sustains a Dymaxion sleep cycle.
  • A six-hour cycle: take a 30–minute nap every 5.5 hours.
  • Total daily sleep time: 2 hours.
dymaxion sleep chart

SPAMAYL — Sleep polyphasically as much as you like
  • Has become more popular recently.
  • More flexible than many other sleep cycles
  • Take 7–10 naps across the day, ~20 minutes per nap.
  • Total daily sleep time: 1.5–4 hours.
spamayl cycle chart

Naps

Healthy adults who don’t sleep as much as they want should take naps.

The older people get, the less time they require for naps.

10–20 minute naps:
  • Only engages in lighter sleep stages and is non-REM.
  • Ideal for a boost in alertness and energy, and very useful for finding creative answers and quick re-focusing.
  • After staying up all night, a 15–20 minute nap right before the sun rises will reset the body’s clock.

According to NASA, the perfect nap should last 26 minutes:
  • Taking coffee right before a nap guarantees waking up 20–30 minutes later.
  • Half-hour naps may cause sleep inertia (a groggy feeling that feels like a hangover) for up to 30 minutes after waking up.

60-minute naps:

90-minute naps:
  • A full sleep cycle with all four stages that typically avoids sleep inertia.
  • Leads to improved creativity and better procedural and emotional memory.

Sitting slightly upright prevents deep sleep.

Depending on your sleep cycle, the ideal napping time is typically between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Napping too late in the day or for over 20 minutes can interfere with sleep cycles.

Laughing for 15 minutes has the same psychological effects as getting 2 hours of sleep.


Daily routines to improve sleep

Drink plenty of water.

Exercise regularly (as little as 10 minutes a day can set a sleep pattern).

Make a wind-down routine:
  • At day’s end, de-stress and meditate.
  • Listen to the same song every time you’re tired, then play it back when you can’t sleep.
  • Create a bedtime routine of pajamas and a cup of tea in bed at a reliable time.
  • Set a strict “screens off” time 1–2 hours before bedtime.

Insomnia prevention

Stressful situations are the most frequent cause of insomnia.

Assuming you’re not overly stressed, working hard to the point of exhaustion typically resolves most insomnia.

Fasting makes getting to sleep difficult.

Some things will interrupt sleep:
  • Noise and bright light will disrupt sleeping.
  • Pets in the bedroom can randomly wake you up (close the bedroom door on them).
  • Proximity to non-visible light (such as wireless networks) will disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Caffeine (like coffee and tea) reduces deep sleep.

Insomnia cures

Avoid bad insomnia self-care:
  • Alcohol will induce sleep, but it sabotages sleep cycles.
  • Eating elevates the heart rate from digesting food for up to 4 hours.
  • Exercising increases the body’s metabolism for 4–5 hours.
  • Sleeping pills can disrupt circadian rhythms.
  • Using a mobile device stirs up brain activity (but not necessarily from blue light).

Your insomnia might be coming from a simple distraction:
  • Lie perfectly still in bed and pay attention to anything your body is telling you.
  • If your allergies are acting up, take a shower to wash the pollen off.
  • If you have back pain:
    • Place a towel or thin pillow under your groin area while on your face.
    • Place a pillow between your legs while on your side.
    • Place a towel under your knees while on your back.
  • If your nose is congested, leave a sliced onion overnight near the bed.
  • If you’re coughing at night:
    • Eat a spoonful of honey.
    • Put menthol-based ointment on your feet and wear socks over them.
  • If you have cramps, drink a mix of two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a little honey and water.
  • If you have indigestion, sleep on your right side to prevent your digestion from backing up.
  • If you keep waking up in the middle of the night on an empty stomach, eat a slice of bread or a spoonful of peanut butter.
  • If your roommate’s or significant other’s phone alarm is going off where you can’t reach it, call the phone to disable their alarm.

Take something to calm down:
  • Drink chamomile tea or passion flower tea.
  • Eat a spoonful of honey.
  • Drink a glass of fresh lemon juice.
  • Place a mixture of 5 parts organic honey and 1 part Himalayan sea salt under your tongue.
  • Night-time drink:
    1. Heat a cup of milk or almond milk on high until it’s hot enough to foam
    2. Stir in a teaspoon of honey, two drops of vanilla extract, and a pinch of ground cinnamon

You will fall asleep after about 10 seconds without a conscious thought:
  • Falling asleep is far easier when you’re not thinking about sleeping or the next day.
  • Mentally tell yourself you’re tired.
  • Think of sleep-related words like “relax”, “calm”, and “rest”.
  • Count backward from 99, count backward every 3rd number from 400, or imagine counting sheep or cards in a peaceful setting.
  • Listen to white noise or meditative music.
  • Create a fun, dreamlike story where you’re the main character.
  • Read a book in bed.
  • If you can’t stop thinking, focus on what happened during your day.
  • Learn to daydream and imagine fantastic stories.

Use your physical state to inspire sleep:
  • Repeatedly practice 4-7-8 deep breathing (4-second inhale, 7-second hold, 8-second exhale).
  • Blink fast for a minute to make the eyes tired, then relax them.
  • Tense all your muscles as much as you can for several seconds, then release them.
  • Relax each muscle bit by bit, focusing on tense muscles first.
  • Stay completely still for 15 minutes.
  • Take a hot shower.
  • Stretch out your legs and back.
  • Put on ear plugs and an eye mask.
  • Since the body cools down naturally during sleep, cooling yourself will help trigger sleep.
    • Take a cold shower an hour before going to bed.
    • Set the thermostat to 65–72 °F and only use a bedsheet.
    • Make a wind tunnel with a box fan and a sheet.
    • Wet a t-shirt, wring it out as much as possible, and wear it to bed.
    • Place an ice pack under the pillow and flip it each time it gets warm.
  • Lay down on your right side.
    • You’ll get to sleep faster on your right side than on your left.
  • Observe the position you wake up in and go to sleep in that position.
  • If you can’t sleep, get up to prevent yourself from being conditioned to think while in bed.

If you need something more severe:
  • Look at photos or videos of other people sleeping.
  • Read a boring book in bed.
  • Cuddle with or have sex with your significant other before going to bed.
  • Play the didgeridoo.
  • Go camping for a week without electronics to synchronize to sunrise and sunset.
  • If you can afford it, get a vibrating bed and set it at the lowest setting.


Traveling disrupts sleep

When we are somewhere that feels new, our brain stays alert through the night to protect us.

  1. It’s much harder to fall asleep in an unfamiliar environment.
  2. Gradually, the brain will lose its always-alert state and adapt to deep sleep.
  3. Frequent travelers often grow accustomed to new sleeping environments.
Accommodate yourself to prevent travel insomnia:
  • Choose a low-traffic area in a hotel, like the end of a hallway or a top-level room.
  • Bring blackout curtains or blinds.
  • Ask for or bring a white noise machine, earplugs, and an eye mask.
  • Bring a pillow with a scent and feel you’re accustomed to.
  • To avoid upsetting the stomach, eat a low-carb, light dinner that isn’t spicy or fatty.
  • To avoid thinking about the near future, pack and plan for the next day and put away all electronics.
  • Take a hot bath to relax.
  • Meditate and breathe deeply.

If you’re only traveling for a day or two, keep your sleep pattern in your home time zone.

Jet lag is usually unavoidable for trips lasting more than a few days, but you can mitigate its effects:
  • Drink a natural tea like yerba maté, ginkgo biloba, or ginseng.
  • Take a warm shower in the morning.
  • Spend the day outside, ideally in the morning between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.
  • Exercise in the early morning or late afternoon.
  • Wear “re-timer” glasses that emit a soft green light.
  • Nap for up to 20 minutes at a time to get back on schedule.
  • Avoid substances that can interfere with your sleep, such as coffee or alcohol.
  • Take a cold shower in the evening.